Sea of whitewash: UK ‘defence export services organisation’ is “closed” in reorganisation

Posted in Britain, Corruption, Defence Defense, Saudi Arabia by Deputy city editor on July 9, 2007

Be careful what you wish for. A victory for the Campaign against the Arms Trade is deafened by the sound of shredders…

Another brilliant piece by Rob Evans and David Leigh in The Guardian revealing that: “The Treasury is planning to disband the government’s controversial arms sales department. The 450-strong defence export services organisation (Deso), based near Oxford Street in London, has long been the target of anti-corruption campaigners and opponents of the arms trade.”

After years as a government bag man on corrupt arms deals, Deso will cease to exist, not because of a sudden atack of scruples by ministers. The motive is more transparently that of making plenty of distance between ministers and “history” before investigators get any closer to the murky story of the Deso. It will soon be as if Deso had never been. Or so the government (and opposition) will be hoping.

It seems very unlikely, with the amount of shredding likely to be now underway, that the entire story will ever readily become known. Although in broad outline we already know of the alphabet of corrupt dealings by BAE and the British government, all over the world, from Arabia to Zimbabwe.

The ultimate alibi of the BAE executives is that it was all done ensemble with the government – both the former conservative and current labour ones. So, reason BAE, they cannot have committed a crime. What was done was sovereign, and nothing to do with them. And it was anyway all in the past. Thus the dust is being swept under a very thick carpet. The government will mumble about a department that no longer exists, and ministers will say that what is important is the way forward.

American criminal investigators may uncover some insalubrious facts, although The Guardian is pretty well on top of this. But even the most ambitious federal prosecutors might have difficulty prying lose the inside stories of arms deals in which BAE and the British government got up to some jolly scrapes, to say the least. Sadly, my fantasy of one day observing BAE Systems executives drgged to the USA in handcuffs, is unlikely to be fulfilled. Neither is the chance that dictators still in office will have their bank accounts investigated, or that stolen sums might be restored to national treasuries.

Is this the end of special treatment for BAE Systems? How will it finance commissions on its Eurofighter deal with the Saudis, if ministers refuse to sign the checks? I notice the first “private” A380 has been odered: is this part of the Eurofighter deal? Will the MoD now procure weapons on the basis of its requirements for its own troops, or as part of an export drive, lubricated by corruption? Why is it so difficult to imagine that this leopard will readily change its spots?


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  1. […] any material difference to anything whatsoever. Jonathan Miller’s (not the director) post about it here is pretty good, as is his previous one about Matthew Parris, which you must read because Parris is […]

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